in 40th Toronto International Film Festival

by Pierre Pageau

Of the 15 movies we had to see in the Special Presentation section at TIFF 2015, four were set totally in India and three were productions from India: Parched, Angry Indian Goddesses, Guilty. One was a French production, Un + Une (Claude Lelouch), but the complete action was in India.  À French musician comes to make the music for an Indian movie but a health problem leads him to visit Amma (a real life healer known as the “hugging saint”). The social and cultural background of India gives this film a special color. But the three movies from India show us that there are currently many outcries against sexism, inequality and injustices.

Parched (by Leena Yadav, a woman) and Angry Indian Goddesses (by Pan Nalin) take aim at misogyny and the weight of traditions on women, especially Parched, the best of the two, at least on that subject. There is a long scene at the opening of Parched showing elders deciding for the women who they should marry, how they should behave; especially for Rani, a woman who had to marry at 13 and was widowed at 16.

Rani’s closest friend Lajjo is shamed as infertile (she later learns that her always-drunk husband is the cause and not her). It is a belly dancer and prostitute that will help them get out of this mess. We have to remember that belly dancers are not considered to be respectable in the Middle East, and there is a strong social stigma attached to them. This decision by filmmaker Yadav is a very strong statement against the prejudices of the traditional society. Parched is photographed by Academy Award-winner Russell Carpenter; he provides a cosmic view of the desert that creates these kinds of habits and shows us an even more beautiful and believable belly-dancer.

In these movies the main characters are only women. In Parched there are three; in Angry Indian Goddesses there are seven. This allows the filmmakers to state firmly that the women are the ones who suffer most from the servitude of tradition (century-old traditions in the case of Parched). In recent years, India is going through large social transformations. The film directors (Yadav and Nalin) consider that women are at the center of these transformations. And their fight for equality and respect inspires them.  To sum up, the two movies take aim for the rights of woman in India.

Traditions, very often linked to religions, are at the roots of sexist violence. This is presented as such in Angry Indian Goddesses when, in the last part of the movie, there is a gang rape, a frequent occurrence in India. In the first part there is the “coming out” of two women friends that decide to marry. These two ingredients of the scenario show us that director Pan Nalin wants to take part in the fight for womens’ rights (and in fact rights for everybody that wants to be different) in India.

Guilty (by Meghna Gulzar), the third movie, is a sort of whodunit and a thriller about real events that took place in 2008: a murder of a young woman with a clear undertone of “honor killing.”  But the main preoccupation of the director Gulzar (a woman) is the very lousy job done by the police and the judicial bureaucracy.  But, a spectator can also understand that this clumsiness is the product of a society that prefers not to look directly at the fact that there was probably a sexual affair between the two women who were murdered (a servant and the daughter of the parents that were incriminated).

Edited by Alissa Simon